The Lookout

Concerns rise over liquid nitrogen following cocktail accident

The Lookout

An 18-year-old British woman had to have her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail that contained liquid nitrogen.

Gaby Scanlon reportedly became breathless and was suffering intense stomach pains while drinking with some friends on her birthday last week. She was rushed to the hospital, where surgeons saw little choice but to remove the young woman's entire stomach. Had they not, experts say, she would have likely died.

Liquid nitrogen is used in some cocktails, mostly for the foglike look it gives. In the wake of Scanlon's injury, scientists are speaking out about the dangers.

"Liquid nitrogen," said professor Peter Barham of the University of Bristol's School of Physics in the Telegraph, "can be used safely in the preparation of foods. However," he continued, "since it is not safe to ingest liquid nitrogen due care must be taken to ensure that the liquid has all evaporated before serving any food or drink that was prepared with liquid nitrogen."

Because liquid nitrogen has such a low temperature (-321 F), it can lead to intense frostbite and burns. "As with any very hot or very cold liquid proper safety measures must be taken," Barham said. "Just as no-one would drink boiling water or oil or pour it over themselves, so no-one should ingest liquid nitrogen."

However, some bartenders believe the substance can be used safely, provided the bartender knows what he or she is doing. ABC News spoke with Dale DeGroff, known as "King Cocktail" in New York City. While DeGroff says that it is important for bartenders to be aware of the dangers of liquid nitrogen and dry ice, he doesn't "think there is need for alarm. ... These techniques are rarely used and almost always by professions with the skill and knowledge to use [them] safely. This is the first example of abuse I have seen in my long career."

The chemical isn't used just in bars and pubs. Liquid nitrogen is also used in fancier restaurants to rapidly cool milk and sugar to create ice cream.

Authorities in the U.K. are looking into the Scanlon accident. The bar is cooperating with the investigating agencies.

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